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Traveling to SkillsUSA’s national conference in a rented van, they laugh, sleep and learn how to succeed — from a teacher who believes in making the most of the life we’ve all been given

By Ann P. Schreiber

Severo Perez (center) and students (left to right) Erica Chavez, Akhila Scott, Amethyst Martinez and Jennifer Melendez.

Severo Perez is demanding. With the standards he sets, it’s no wonder his criminal justice students earn their way to nationals, year after year.

“At the beginning of the school year, I draw a line on the chalk board,” says the Dallas instructor. “On one side, I write a B, and on the other, a D. I tell them, ‘The B represents when you were born, and D represents when you die. In between, this is where you fill in the blank. You make the choices about your life.’ ”

Perez, a SkillsUSA advisor for 16 years, has learned a few things about his students at Townview Law Magnet. “I’m blunt. I tell them the way it is. Kids know if you are lying. I want them to know that they only get one chance with their lives. It’s what I apply at home with my own family,” he explains.

Such a straightforward approach can be daunting, but when you talk to his students, you realize it’s also a catalyst. They raise thousands of dollars to travel to the SkillsUSA nationals in Kansas City, Mo.

Web Resources

  • For tips on fundraising, see Chapter 14: “Conduct a Fundraiser” in the Advisor’s Success Kit (ASK) CD-ROM, available for purchase here — or purchased as a one chapter download here.
  • SkillsUSA returns to Kansas City June 23-27 for the 44th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference. For the latest details, click here.

“We’re really blessed to have Mr. Perez as our advisor, because it’s not every day that you have an environment or a teacher who’s willing to spend 24 hours with you, doing fundraising, teaching you, practicing with you for competitions,” says Amethyst Martinez. “He’ll be up at 5 o’clock Saturday morning, practicing until 5 o’clock or 10 o’clock that evening. It’s that dedication that makes us dedicated. It motivates us to make him proud and enables us to move on in our lives.”

Ideas for fundraisers come from brainstorming sessions with chapter members. The students sell breakfast items, pizzas, other food and snacks. They send letters asking for donations from corporate sponsors. They also make presentations to local businesses. And, they hold car washes.

Constant fundraisers? Car washes? Food sales? And letter writing?

“It seems like a lot,” says student Jennifer Melendez. “But once you get to nationals, you think, ‘Wow, I really did get a good deal.’ ”

When talking to potential sponsors, the students provide details about who they are, what they study, what they do at nationals, how the money will be spent and why it’s important for them to donate, according to Erica Chavez.

“We try to illustrate that they will benefit in the near future, because we will one day be their employees. If we can get them to see what SkillsUSA is all about, they really want to help,” the student says.

They also hold “phone-a-thons,” according to Akhila Scott: “We’ll call different businesses and tell them what we’re about and what we do. They’re usually pretty generous.”

And, they cover the community, too.

“We do a lot of car washes, because it’s hot in Texas,” laughs Martinez.

That includes working with a local car dealer. “For every car the dealer sold from 8 o’clock to 3 o’clock, we got $100. We made $300 on car washes plus $1,500 on cars sold,” Perez says.

Throughout their trip to Kansas City, students send postcards to keep their sponsors informed and to say thanks.

“Every time we stop the van, we look for postcards,” Melendez chuckles. “I enjoy raising the money,” she adds. “Not a lot of people say that. It’s a lot of work. It’s totally worth it.”

When they return to Dallas, the students call and thank their sponsors or make visits to deliver group photos of themselves at the event. They want their sponsors to remember the students who went the extra mile — over 550 miles by van from
Dallas to Kansas City.

An attitude of possibility helps her make the most of life

By the time Kirsty Escalante ended up in the criminal justice program at Dallas’ Townview Law Magnet, her sights were already set on Yale University.

“I have been thinking about colleges since seventh grade and decided to go to Yale when I was in 10th grade,” she says. “Since sophomore year in high school, I have been working toward the goal of getting into Yale. I ended up here by working hard for years and years and never losing sight of my goal. And believe me that graduating from Yale will take even more hard work.”

Escalante’s dream has become a reality with the bonus of tuition covered by financial aid as well as government grants and independent scholarships.

She’s the perfect example of how students of Severo Perez have learned to make the most of their lives and fearlessly take on the types of challenges that many of us might avoid.

For Escalante, it’s about making the most of her life, one day at a time: “As of now, I plan to major in art history, but that may certainly change. I’ll go wherever the wind takes me!”

Escalante adds she’s always been pretty confident, but being a member of SkillsUSA helped her develop hidden leadership and professional development traits.

“Because of SkillsUSA, I learned essential job interviewing skills, how to make a good résumé and how to be a better public speaker,” she explains.

Like many of Perez’s students, she’s grateful for her high school experience and more than willing to share her attitude of unlimited possibilities.

“Mr. Perez has an effect on his kids that no other teacher has on his or her students. He is extremely involved with us, in SkillsUSA and in the classroom, and he is obviously dedicated to seeing us succeed. It’s nice to know that someone cares so much about your future,” Escalante says.

To show her gratitude, she’s returned to Perez’s classroom as a guest speaker.

“I want to remind people that anything is possible and to not constrain themselves because of social stigmas or economic issues. People shouldn’t limit themselves or settle for less than they can achieve,” she adds.

Escalante says her goal is to become a museum curator, “but I’m open to whatever comes my way as long as it’s fulfilling, and it makes me happy.”

Duke student sees no end to what she can accomplish

When Martiza Sanchez decided to go to college, she wanted to attend one of the best. After applying to a lot of schools, she chose Duke University in Durham, N.C.

“My parents said not to make money an issue, because if it came down to that, they would do whatever it took,” Sanchez says. “Thankfully, I am on a scholarship as well as financial aid.”

The junior is also willing to do what ever it takes to reach her goals ... and then some. Majoring in psychology and cultural anthropology, she’s picking up a certificate in early childhood education because it’s offered to psychology majors and she feels it will be useful. Sanchez has been on the dean’s list “with distinction,” which puts her in the top 10th percentile of the university.

According to her, Perez is like a second father who’s been supportive of her, through the good and the bad. “Mr. Perez’s opinion is definitely one that I seek and value,” she explains. “Because Mr. Perez sees potential in his students, he pushes them to attain their greatest potential. He does not allow anyone to quit and does not take no for an answer.

“I wouldn’t be here at Duke without him. He pushed me to be in SkillsUSA, and he pushed me every year to compete and to go for state office.”

Perez and SkillsUSA are a part of her.

“In every possible way, I can say that being a SkillsUSA member has allowed me to live up to the motto of ‘Preparing for Leadership in the World of Work,’ ” Sanchez says. “Being a state officer enhanced my professional etiquette, public speaking, time management, team mentality and increased my confidence and self-esteem. When I arrived at Duke, I knew that whatever I set my mind to, I could achieve.

“The [SkillsUSA] competitions I competed in — they taught me to work as a team member and strive to do my very best. At a place like Duke, you have to do your very best.”

As a show of gratitude, she says talking with Mr. Perez’s current students is the least she can do. “I tell them, ‘If I did it, you can do it, too.’

“I want to be an FBI agent, so I am considering law school or getting a master’s in criminal justice or getting a job to prepare me for the FBI Academy. Being a woman in criminal justice is empowering. You can be as powerful as the man next to you. And, I think that as a police officer or federal agent, you can have an impact, locally or even worldwide.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Summer 2008 | Volume 42, No. 4
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